The Daily Telegraph again trivialises and distorts issues with this morning’s “Thick Sheikh” banner headline and steers firmly in the direction of Muslim bashing, which I for one strenuously avoid. The Sydney Morning Herald is more measured, but does raise issues about the Mufti that really do deserve serious attention.
In September 2005 I linked on my Blogspot blog to an article by Peter Bergen called Portrait of the Enemy. It is worth linking again in the light of information in Muslims set to dump defiant Hilaly after outbursts in today’s Herald.
It also emerged yesterday that Sheik Hilaly had heaped lavish praise on Sayyid Qutb, the Islamic theologian widely regarded as a philosophical inspiration for terrorist groups…
In his speech last month, Sheik Hilaly quoted a Muslim scholar saying he would discipline a man for rape, but then jail the woman for life because “if she had not left the meat uncovered, the cat wouldn’t have snatched it”.
Sheik Hilaly’s power base is in western Sydney, but many Muslims dispute his title as Mufti of Australia. Calls for his resignation were particularly strong from Victoria. Muslim women have also expressed their dissatisfaction with his claims that his comments on rape were misinterpreted, and his apology for any offence called.
Sheik Hilaly’s comments in support of Sayyid Qutb were made on local Islamic radio earlier this month.
Speaking to the Herald yesterday, Sheik Hilaly’s spokesman, Keysar Trad, confirmed the Sheik admired Qutb and had spoken favourably about him, including on a program on the Arabic language Voice of Islam radio station.
Qutb is a major figure in 20th century Islam who studied in the US and returned to Egypt to undergo koranic studies. He spoke of the West as an enemy of Islam; developed the theological basis justifying violent jihad, martyrdom and suicide bombings; and believed men should control the lives of women.
First, it should be noted that while Qutb, whose work, is little known in the West yet is one of the most influential sources of critique in the world today, he has inspired many things, some of which we may even approve of, were we to be objective. We have not taken the trouble, by and large, to understand the history and thinking of those outside our own circles, a fault which of course can be found on all sides of many an issue. Second, while we are appalled by the Sheikh’s comments on rape, fornication, women, modesty, and so on, we have to admit the uncomfortable truth that he shares such views with many a group we would not otherwise worry about.
Andrew Vincent, director of Macquarie University’s Centre of Middle East Studies, said the saturation coverage here and interest from overseas media showed an obsession with vilifying Islam.
“Hilaly is a religious nutter but there are plenty of religious nutters of all persuasions in Australia saying stupid and offensive things … you have to ask yourself why it’s only the comments of Muslim leaders that capture the media’s attention.”
But the Qutb connection is worth thinking about.
Here is what I wrote in September 2005:
On the point made below about the Islamists’ education being, often, western but non-humanist, I am drawing on Malise Ruthven, whose Fury for God (2002) really is excellent.
Ruthven rightly spends time exploring the writings of Egyptian Sayyid Qutb, a name that will be unfamiliar to most Americans, but as the leading modern exponent of the Wahabbist strain of militant Islam, he is as significant in that world as Lenin was to communism. Qutb visited the United States during the 1940s, a visit that Ruthven characterizes as “the defining moment or watershed from which ‘the Islamist war against America’ would flow.” Qutb, a fastidious man, was appalled by the overt sexuality of American women, the crowds of New York and even jazz. Returning to Egypt with an intense animus against the West, he joined the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and was eventually imprisoned in Nasser’s hellish jails. While in prison he wrote Signposts on the Road, a tract that Ruthven describes as “an operational manual” for later militant Islamists. Qutb argued that jihad was more than a defensive war against the enemies of Islam — and, by implication, that jihad had to be conducted offensively. Qutb’s disciples have since acted on that message with devastating results.
Those disciples have an ambivalent relationship to Western civilization, seeing in it only the bad, while taking from it only what they need. They know nothing of Dostoyevsky, Einstein or Monet; instead they master “only the instrumentalities of Western culture… how to operate machinery, mix chemicals, program computers, fly planes… The philosophical presuppositions behind the technicalities, the condition of epistemological doubt, is spurned, because it threatens the structure of an identity rooted in the received certainties of faith.” Ruthven notes that this tendency gets reinforced by the strong backgrounds that many Islamists have in scientific or technical education; this, he argues, makes them “more susceptible to monodimensional or literalist readings of scripture than their counterparts in the arts and humanities.” For Ruthven, the lead hijacker, Mohammad Atta, a student of architecture and town planning, is perhaps the apotheosis of that narrow world view.
For a starting point at least on this highly influential figure and his complex heritage, see Sayyid Qutb in Wikipedia. It is hard to imagine anyone studying either contemporary Islam or Postcolonialism in ignorance of this man and his work, but we should also be aware that he is a controversial figure within Islam as well as outside Islam. The Sheikh’s admiration for him is not surprising, but could well be regrettable.